Thursday, October 28, 2010


Which was my favorite birthday gift of all time?

A. Those who guessed the Irish fisherman's sweater were on to something.  Fablique1 remembers me in such a garment--it didn't hang to my knees (that was poetic license), but I wore it all the time.  The sweater was a nice addition, but it didn't change me.

C. I had to include Doc, the Ford Pinto, ugly faithful old pea-green clunker, which was of the kind known for exploding gas tanks, but mine never did.   I bought it myself from a roommate of my boyfriend's for one buck.  I sold it for $80.   Doc had a subtle, insidious problem which will be the subject of the next QUIDDITY QUIZ!

D.  The album was to throw everyone off the scent. I was surprised that more people didn't go for it, although some instinct may have told them that a Quaker kid might not value an autograph, symbol of vanity, but this was Bob Dylan, after all.  Yes, we had Highway 61, but it was my brother's and it bore no autograph.  

B.  Which leaves the correct answer, the miraculous red jumping shoes, and TWO WINNERS! Laura and Gina.  I was just at the right age--7 or 8, when I still enjoyed frequent dreams of flying around the house.  The fire engine red metal plates strapped to my feet, when I bounded around the neighborhood, I felt as though I leapt as high as the trees, transformed.  I was a different me.  That's what made this the  best gift of all.

If the two winners would send either their mailing addresses to, they will receive a special gift of no monetary value!  If you're not comfortable sending your mailing address, shoot me an email, and I'll do virtual honors. Thanks for playing!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What's In a Name: Or, What's Up With These Quaker Schools?

At my daughter's Quaker school, the kids call their teachers by their first names.  It wasn't the case when I was at Quaker school back in the Neolithic era.  It was Mrs., Miss, Mr.  "Ms." was still a news item at the time, not yet filtered into the culture.

Some people are convinced that this breeds disrespect in the students.  I'll concede that names are powerful. As a kid, I had trouble saying my own name when I met people.  For me, anyone labeled Mr. or Mrs., was, by definition, someone I couldn't open up to.  My job was to be polite to the "Mrs." I encountered, and the relationship ended there.  I probably I lost out on some potential relationships--"Of course I can't risk opening up to adults"--which the adults I encountered would, in fact, have encouraged.  Of course, the problem was bigger than how I addressed anyone. When my kids were little, I had a lot of ambivalence about how they should address adults, and the result was a piebald mix of Mr., Mrs., Ms., first names, and the occasional 'Aunt.'

 What about respect for authority?  What I've noticed at C's school is that the kids who are disrespectful to teachers are the same kids who would, in another, more traditional school, be just as disrespectful--if more outwardly conforming than at a Quaker school.

I'm very grateful that C. is in a place where teachers are approachable.  The first-name-basis thing is symbolic of that.  The authority/respect issue is mediated by the mutual respect that this community works very hard to maintain across the board.  It's not static, and I'm sure it's more time-consuming than the traditional approach.  Teachers are accountable for how they interact with students, and students mature in respect as they get older.  It can be a messy process, and this is the heart of the matter.  Openness is hard to maintain skillfully, but it's necessarily not the doorway to laxity and disrespect.


Saturday, October 23, 2010


Quiddity is the essence or whatness of something.  Periodically, I will be offering a small prize (virtual or physical) to however many people correctly guess which is true, or on other occasions, which is the whoppingest lie, of several options.

With appreciation to everyone who sent me good wishes, a little party game.

Which of the following was my favorite birthday gift of all time?

A.  An Irish fisherman's knit sweater that hung to my knees
B. A pair of bright red jumping shoes (like the old strap on roller skates, but with BIG springs instead of wheels)
C. A 1976 Ford Pinto named "Doc" (more about him later)
D.  An autographed copy of Dylan's album Highway 61 Revisited

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Novel About Religious Extremism of the Jewish Variety

 Wherever You Go, the just-published novel by my fellow Vermont College alumna, Joan Leegant, explores radical faith in both its benign and terrifying forms.  

Yona Stern, a secular Jew, travels to Israel to restore her relationship with her hardened sister, Dena, who is now part of a radical, right-wing illegal settlement group.  Mark Greenglass, an Orthodox Talmud scholar based in Israel, has lost the oceanic, reassuring faith that once rescued him from drug addition, but he's nevertheless been asked to teach at a Yeshiva in New York.  Aaron Blinder, a college dropout who's a product of parental indifference and too many hours of Hebrew School, finds meaning and a container for his rage as part of a fringe group in Israel bent on reclaiming all of the land "covenanted to them by God."  Leegant deftly braids these three lives together culminating in a conflagration that's much bigger than any of them.  Just as the small parcel of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan has seen outsize conflict, those who walk on its soil risk tripping the wires of religious ideology that are wound tightly around the core of its civil life.    

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recommended Reading

Adrienne Redd is a political theorist who poses the question "What now?" in the light of shifting boundaries and globalization.  The nation-state is no longer the stable entity we believed it to be.  But was it ever stable?   What will the nation become in a world of intense political and social change?  And what does it mean to be a citizen of a nation?

Fallen Walls, Fallen Towers: The Fate of the Nation in a Global World is available on Amazon in hardback and Kindle.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


This brief excerpt is from my novel in progress titled "Quaker Playboy Leaves Legacy of Confusion."

"When she was a child, Quaker meeting had taught her that silence is not empty.  It can be rich as plum cake, and sometimes, sitting between her parents on the plain bench, the silence had warmed her. Uh, huh, her mother had said, distracted, when Perry told her and asked her Is that the Inner Light? but it hadn’t really been light; it was more of a color, as if God had smiled and left something behind." 

Take a moment to feel the quality of the silence around you.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


When I was writing a personal essay about my first marriage at eighteen to a man I affectionately call PsychoTeacher, I sent a draft to my friend, Cynthia, in Texas. My family life as a child and teenager was fairly pickled in black humor (somehow it went with the martinis--my brother and I fought over the olives--and with the boiled tongue that lolled on a platter at the dinner table while my father stood, sharpening the carving knife).  This kind of humor being (IMO) one way families have of dealing with stuff that everyone feel-knows is there but no one dares to risk mentioning.  Because then it might all come crashing down.  Witty put-downs of other family members were quickly atoned for by even wittier (so it seemed) jibes at oneself.

I thought I'd nailed that essay. I'd finessed just the right droll irony to keep it humorous, yet painful. True to life! It was even fun to write!  But Cynthia in Texas didn't see it that way.  "The sarcastic humor is off-putting," she wrote.  "I think you need to go back and feel the pain."

The next two drafts were hell. I didn't sleep, remembered stuff I didn't want to remember, felt feelings I thought I'd left behind in that crappy little apartment with my flute that PsychoTeacher hid when I left.  "If I ever, ever, say I want to write a memoir," I told my husband, (my real, first husband, as I think of him) "Shoot me."

"Um," he said.

But I Went There.  That's the thing. In order to write stuff that's worth something, you have to go to the places you really don't want to go into.   And I found that with the fourth and fifth revision, it became just another piece of writing. "You're rockin' it," Cynthia in Texas wrote to me.  

So yes, sarcasm has its place. But as the poet George Herbert said, "Wit's an unruly engine/striking sometimes a friend/sometimes the engineer."  I'd say I came out of that writing cauldron somewhat the better. After all, the essay, My Charlie Manson, won a prize.  Now you can read it.